Gabriel O’Brien is a seasoned veteran of music retail, having worked in a guitar store for 17 years. He has long been an advocate for independent music stores — he has written articles about music instrument retail and spoken at the industry’s biggest dealer convention, NAMM. These days, in addition to working as a cinematographer and audio engineer, he is the moderator of the popular Taylor Guitars Facebook Owners Group, and he’s seen several conversations about Taylor selling guitars on our website. So, he reached out to Taylor’s Chief Business Development Officer, Keith Brawley, to get answers to some of the most common questions being asked on the topic.
As a company, we’ve always tried to maintain an open and honest dialogue with Taylor customers and respond to their questions and concerns. You’ll find their Q&A below.
Gabriel O’Brien: Let’s start with the basics. Taylor is now offering guitars on their website. When did this start?
Keith Brawley: Yes, we now offer guitars on our website (taylorguitars.com). It’s not everything we make; only standard-model guitars that can also be purchased through our dealers. It’s only happening in the U.S. We started on Monday, February 6.
For over a decade, we’ve been selling our accessories, called TaylorWare, both on our site and across our dealer network. This arrangement has been very successful through our dealer channel, which has always done the majority of that business, and we expect the same thing to happen with guitars. Essentially, it’s like adding another dealer. The main difference is that most dealers have dozens of brands, while the Taylor website, obviously, will focus on one.
Alongside this recent change, we also announced a new web feature for our dealers to help guitar shoppers connect with the guitar they want and get it from a dealer that day. It’s called “Get It Today Locally.” This new feature elevates actual local dealer inventory at the product level on our web product pages, giving guitar shoppers the visibility and option to buy a Taylor model from a local store instead of buying it online.
GO: Can you help guitar lovers understand why Taylor is selling guitars on their site?
KB: There are two reasons I’ll focus on. First, empowering consumer choice, and second, diversifying our sales channels to help manage business risk.
Starting with COVID, amid hundreds of stores being entirely shut down, we heard from many Taylor customers that they wanted more choices for how and where they buy a Taylor guitar. Not every guitar player has a fully stocked Taylor dealer within driving distance. In fact, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in the number of independent stores across the U.S. in the last 10 years. By adding taylorguitars.com as a purchase option, shoppers have more choices to find and buy the full range of guitars in our line.
Since we are a 100% employee-owned company, this initiative helps us diversify our sales channels and spread our business risk to ensure we do not become overly dependent on any one sales channel. This helps us ensure that the employee-owners of Taylor Guitars will have a strong and stable business to rely on for decades to come.
GO: Bob Taylor has always talked about the importance of your dealer network. Does this change Taylor’s support for your existing dealer network?
KB: Not at all. Among our Taylor staff, many of us have worked in retail stores for years. We all agree with the fact that supporting strong Taylor dealers is the best way to ensure a great shopping and ownership experience for a Taylor player. We maintain our passion and support for our dealers. In fact, we have spent decades partnering with the world’s best guitar dealers. That is unchanged.
We believe great in-store experiences are vital to our industry and will always play a key role in attracting and retaining current and future guitar players. Unfortunately, many towns across the country have seen their local Taylor dealer retire, close their doors, or sell the shop to someone who doesn’t focus on the part of the guitar market Taylor serves. We believe, like most of our dealers, that we must evolve as a business to meet changing consumer expectations and demand.
If you live a long distance from a Taylor dealer, it can be a really frustrating experience to make the journey only to learn that the guitar you wanted to buy isn’t available. On the other side of the counter, dealers understandably do their best to make a sale, even if that means that another product (or brand) is presented to that Taylor shopper. That’s why we are using “Get It Today Locally” to bring more website visibility to our dealers. We are trying to send our dealers people who are looking for a specific Taylor guitar they have in inventory. We want the Taylor shopper to end up with a Taylor, wherever they choose to buy. We’re now several weeks into it, and we’re already getting great feedback from our dealers.
GO: What surprised some guitar players about selling guitars on your site was the fact that this was a surprise. Why didn’t Taylor announce this new feature like you do with new models, etc.? Did you tell your dealers?
KB: We didn’t make a big announcement to the public simply because we’re not trying to steer people to buy from Taylor over any other option. If someone visits our site because they don’t feel comfortable with their local dealer or other online options, then they’ll see that they have a new “add to cart” option.
We made a serious, concerted effort to reach all our U.S. dealers ahead of the change, either through phone calls or email. I personally spent a few weeks calling a variety of dealers about these web changes, as did our other sales execs. We want the Taylor shopper to get the guitar they want, no matter where they choose to buy. And we happily refer customers to the local dealer who has the guitar they want in stock.
GO: Keith, two hot questions keep coming up. One, will the Taylor website offer different guitars from your dealers? And two, will your pricing be different?
KB: That’s easy… no and no. Of course, no dealer stocks our entire product line. But all of the guitars offered on taylorguitars.com are also available to be stocked by any authorized Taylor dealer. We understand that dealers need to make choices about what they want in their stores and/or on their websites, balancing budgets across numerous brands. But in this era of empowered consumers, we want all Taylor fans to see the full range of what we have to offer. To reiterate, everything on our site can be bought and stocked by any authorized Taylor dealer.
Also, regarding pricing, it’s important to note that all Taylor Dealers are free to set their own selling prices and do so without any input from Taylor Guitars. We will not be undercutting our dealers on price. Our website will operate under all the same rules and policies that apply to our dealers. No exceptions.
GO: OK, Keith. You hit the high notes. Thanks for your time and openness to my questions.
KB: Thanks for being willing to help us keep the facts straight, Gabriel.